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Walberg Era Begins With a Charge to 'Revolutionize' Bulldogs Basketball
STEVEN HEADSHOT 1
By Steven Sanchez
Published 1 month ago on
April 12, 2024

Fresno State University President Dr. Saul Jimenez, left, and new men's basketball coach,Vance Walberg hold up a Bulldog jersey, Friday, April 12, 2024. (GV Wire/Steven Sanchez)

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A new era of Fresno State men’s basketball is here.

The Red Wave came out strong and welcomed Vance Walberg as coach with a Bulldog party billed as a news conference Friday morning at the Duncan Athletic Building.

“This has been a big dream of mine for years having watched basketball grow here in those years, and I feel very fortunate,” Walberg said.  “I want to bring Fresno State basketball to the top of the Mountain West Conference, I want to get us into the (NCAA) playoffs, and be successful, and I’ll do whatever I can to do that.”

Family, alumni, staff, and associates crowded his introduction. Mascot Victor E. Bulldog was there, and university cheerleaders hyped Walberg up as entered the room to applause and cheers.

It was like a welcome home party, but he has been next door since 2016 as the basketball coach for Clovis West High School. He has dominated the high school and community college ranks with teams utilizing fast-paced offense and tenacious defense. And, he has vast experience working with the world’s best players as an NBA assistant.

Now, at age 67, he’s getting a second chance to be a successful big-time college basketball coach. A stint at Pepperdine (2006-08) ended when he resigned in the middle of his second season there with a 14-35 record.

Walberg replaces Justin Hutson, who stepped down as coach of Fresno State on March 14. Hutson had a 92–94 overall record — highlighted by two 23-victory seasons — and went 47-62 in the Mountain West conference.

Walberg’s deep Valley roots made him a top candidate in the eyes of university President Dr. Saul Jimenez-Sandoval, who said the new coach would “revolutionize” the Bulldogs program..

“It’s a great day to be a Bulldog,” said Jimenez-Sandoval. “There are two main pillars that categorize Coach Walberg: He’s had an impressive career in the Valley and across the U.S. (and) he’s highly respected as a coach and visionary. And it’s his passion for Fresno State, the passion for the Valley and the community, and that’s how he’s going to revolutionize Fresno State basketball from this point on.”

What Kind of Player Will Walberg Recruit?

“Loves the game. Who wants to be in the gym. A great representative of the school. That’s what I like,” Walberg said without hesitation.

The key to his success has been his style of play, which is the up-tempo, dribble-drive, motion offense. He definitely wants to implement that into his strategy but with new players and this being hist first year, it’ll be an adjustment, Walberg said.

“I tried doing that all at once my first year at Pepperdine and it was too much. But I am going to have a pressure defense, a full-court press, it’ll be in bits and pieces until I see what we have. But  the players we’re looking at right now look like they can benefit from playing up tempo. We’ll assess first and go from there,” he said.

His hiring comes with benefits. Because of his community connections, he has a foundation here. Who better to sell the program to recruits from the area than somebody who has coached and lived here? Perhaps that will be an edge in this new age of college athletics with the NIL and the transfer portal.

“That’s the big challenge, not only are you recruiting every year, you’re recruiting your own players,” Walberg said. “You got to make sure you take care of them and make them know you love them. You’ll lose some players with more money offered somewhere else. It’s a give and take, but I want players that are hungry and bring them here to raise their level. I work much better with players who really love the game, who want to get better,” said Walberg.

How to Fill Save Mart Center

Another responsibility is getting people into the seats. Attendance has been up and down the last few years — about 3,500 a game this past season. Getting more students to the arena would be a good start toward filling the 15,596-seat arena.

“The student section at the football games are stellar and we need to carry that over to the men’s basketball home games. We have to activate that student section at the arena,” said Nate Leal, director of basketball operations.

“There’s been some success over the years, like against conference ranked teams, but the community plays a big part. The biggest thing to do is for the coaches and players to show the community who they are, but the NIL and transfer portal presents challenges. Building a core team, being involved in the community, and Walberg’s name itself, people know him and being from here will be a good draw to bring people to the home games.”

Next Up: Hiring a New Athletic Director

The Bulldogs have found their basketball coach, but they’re still searching for a new athletic director after parting ways with Terry Tumey on March 21. Sometimes, a school will hire the AD first so that he or she has input into the selection of a coach for a major sport.

“I feel it was important to secure our students with securing a basketball head coach. He has a genuine passion for the Valley and is aware how this area represents this part of California, the rest of the world and the diversity. His players go beyond the sport and become leaders in the world,” Jimenez-Sandoval explained.

“With the AD, it’s an open search. I’m looking for someone who’ll connect to the school and be involved in the community, adapt to balancing resources in the CSU because they’re not the best. But if they can harness the energy we have for our student-athletes, I’ll be looking forward to the process.”

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Steven Sanchez,
Content Manager/Entertainment Editor
Steven Sanchez, a resident of Clovis, graduated from Buchanan High School in the class of 2007 and obtained his film degree from University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Steven is a multifaceted artist, working as a filmmaker, writer, photographer, videographer, and published author. He has a profound passion for movies, comic books, and rock ‘n’ roll. A dedicated football enthusiast, he cheers for the Las Vegas Raiders. In his leisure time, he indulges in reading and collecting vinyl records. Steven is often found attending rock shows in town, a keen enthusiast of live music. He holds a special fondness for his grandma's homemade meals and spending time with his twin sister.

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